Grappling with Guilt
July 11, 2017

Spiritual First Aid
“Grappling with Guilt”

Have you ever felt guilt?

Have you ever been sitting or driving somewhere when all of a sudden you remember something you did or said that you shouldn’t have? Or maybe it was something you thought about that would bring shame if anyone ever knew?

And this overwhelming feeling of guilt comes flooding over you, and all you feel like is turning into a hermit and going somewhere safe far away.

And this is exactly what the enemy of our souls, Satan, desires most, because he’s the one who is manipulating the situation. But there is one thing that we need to know about Satan, and that is he’s a murderer, liar, and the father of all lies. (John 8:44)

But it’s just as true that while he is our accuser, he really doesn’t have to reach very far to find something to accuse us of, and that’s because we all stand guilty before God.

The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” that is, we all fall short of God’s holy and righteous standards for life. (Romans 3:23)

The Bible also says, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10 NKJV)

Notice that it says, “all have sinned,” and “there is none righteous.” This is universal, which means that everyone has this sense of feeling guilty. In other words, it’s a common everyday emotion, but when it goes unresolved it can do great harm.

Guilt and shame are deadly and can do great damage, not only to us, but also to those that are around us. Guilt makes us hesitant to embrace life to its fullest by causing us to avoid people, especially if we believe we’ve done them harm or wrong.

And in Mesquite, what this means is that you go shopping in the middle of the night, because in a small town you can’t go to the grocery store without running into someone you know or that knows the situation.

Yet, while I use these words guilt and shame together, there is a difference between the two.

Guilt stems from a failure on our part to meet certain standards of behavior. Shame on the other hand is personal. It’s a failure to meet our own standards. Guilt is about what we’ve done, while shame is about who we are.

The weight of guilt and shame is often quite heavy, often times too heavy for us to bear and it stops us from living the life God has purposed for us.

Guilt literally eats away at our time, and makes it difficult to concentrate and think straight, negatively affecting our productivity, not to mention our creativity.

But there is good news. God has a prescription for dealing with guilt and shame. There is a way we can have our record swept clean. There is a way our guilt can be erased!

The good news is what we know as the gospel.

Yet, before we can look at how the gospel can help with our guilt and shame, it’s instructive that we look at exactly guilt is, and the two types of guilt that exists.

What is Guilt?

The word “guilt” comes from the root word in Old English language meaning crime.

Guilt is the painful emotion people experience when they believe their actions, whether real or imagined, have violated a moral or personal standard.

Sometimes it’s goes back to our early childhood believing that somehow we didn’t live up to our parents’ expectations and live with this perpetual felling of guilt. Guilt also rears its ugly head when we believe we’ve harmed others through our actions and/or inactions.

Guilt and shame have been linked to some really messed up emotions. It brings about obsessive-compulsive disorder, a mental disease where people need to continually check things and repeatedly perform rituals. Guilt and shame are also associated with various anxiety disorders as well as an increased risk of suicide.

Guilt and shame paralyze us. They hold us in bondage, and until we learn how to deal with them, which we’ll learn in our section on healing from guilt, we’ll never break guilt’s chains and open the its prison doors to freedom.

Types of Guilt

To properly heal from guilt, we need to distinguish between genuine or positive guilt, and false or negative guilt. We also have to learn how to properly respond to the type of guilt we’re experiencing.

Negative Guilt

At the root of negative guilt is the false idea that God will never forgive us. It’s the belief that our sin is far too great. Basically it’s a failure to believe God’s word and the forgiveness He offers through His Son, Jesus Christ.

We need to understand what the Bible says about God, that He is not like you are I, that He doesn’t lie. Instead God keeps His word, and there is nothing we can do to change that reality. (Numbers 23:19-20) – If God has said it, then He will do it!

And what God says about His forgiveness is that once He forgives, it’s forgiven, and never will it be brought up again.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12 NKJV)

So what are some of the negative forms of guilt?

a. Survivor guilt

This is guilt that comes when we find ourselves doing better than someone else.

Veterans who outlive their fellow comrades often experience this. Survivor guilt also occurs when people lose families, friends, or neighbors in disasters while they remain untouched or, at least, alive.

Survivor guilt is also produced when people make a better life for themselves than their family or friends.

This guilt causes us to spend more than we want, or more than what we can afford in an attempt to feel better about ourselves.

b. Temptations

Temptations are not sin. The Bible says that Jesus was tempted but without sin, but if we connect temptations to sin, that would nullify Jesus’ atoning sacrifice.

The writer of Hebrews says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NKJV)

Temptations are not sin and therefore there is nothing to be guilty about when we are tempted.

Temptations are not the act of doing something, it’s thinking about it without doing it. And while this can cause positive guilt that will help us stop the temptation before it turns into a sin, it shouldn’t bring on guilt.

c. Vain Imaginations

Vain imaginations in this case are those things someone thinks they did. Vain imaginations can place almost as much guilt upon us as if we actually committed the act.

Such vain imaginations are useless and serve no real purpose expect to make us feel guilty for no good reason.

To counter these vain imaginations the Bible tells us to cast them down and bring them into captivity to the obedience of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

d. Guilty Conscience

A guilty conscience usually stems from thinking that we didn’t do enough. A guilty conscience are the “What if’s” that accompany our relationship with others, especially when something goes wrong.

For example you’re desire to see someone who may be sick or ill, but other things come up preventing this from occurring. And then that person dies or something terrible happens and we feel guilty as a result.

It is also a tactic used by people who try to guilt someone into doing something, like parents to children, especially when they’re grown and moved out of the house.

This is negative or false guilt, and it really isn’t a good motivational tool.

Positive Guilt

Now even saying that guilt is somehow positive has many wondering. What is positive guilt?

Positive guilt is when we intentionally violate God’s word and will for our lives. It’s when we knowingly commit a sin, and it’s this knowing violation that brings about a sense of guilt.

Positive guilt also comes when we know what is the right thing, but refuse or neglect to do it. The Apostle James brings this out.

“Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17 NKJV)

Positive guilt is God’s way of telling us that we fall short of His standard, and agreeing with God that His standard is the right way to free us from guilt.

We’ve done something wrong. This may involve harm to others causing physical or emotional pain. We may have also violated our own ethical or moral code, such cheating, lying, or stealing.

This also involves guilt over our own behavior where we swore we’d never do it again, such as smoking or drinking.

In these cases such feeling are normal and healthy, and they should be move us to take the necessary action to bring about our healing. This is why it’s called positive guilt.

Healing from Guilt

Modern psychology wants to neuter guilt by untying it from any moral or ethical foundation. Unfortunately, this has only added to the problem as people now feel overwhelmed by guilt but haven’t got a clue as to why.

The reason why is because God has place eternity in all of our hearts, that is, He’s placed within each person a conscience that has its foundation in God and His moral ethics. Whether people believe in God or not, it’s still there.

The Apostle Paul probably said it best.

“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” (Romans 2:14-15 NKJV)

He is saying that everyone has a conscience and that conscience is linked to God’s law.

In the end modern psychology has no clear path by which it can help alleviate a person’s guilt, that is, not without mind numbing drugs.

There is a right and wrong way to deal with guilt. Trying to hide it or pretend it isn’t real because it’s inconvenient doesn’t work. The Bible says those who try to cover up their sins, and thus the guilt and shame that accompanies sin, will not prosper. (Proverbs 28:13a)

And so God has a prescription for dealing with and healing guilt.

a. Stand Before God

While we can hide our guilt from others, we cannot hide it from God. He knows the wrong we’ve done. (Psalm 69:5)

When I consider this first step, the story of Joshua, the High Priest, comes to mind. Here he is standing before the Lord God clothed in filthy garments that represent his sin. And standing next to Him is Satan accusing him. (Zechariah 3:3-4)

The guilt and shame must have been overwhelming, much as it was with Isaiah who stood before the Lord with the same guilt saying, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5a NKJV)

To Joshua’s accuser, Satan, God rebukes him and takes away Joshua’s iniquity by putting clean garments upon him, from his head to his feet. (Zechariah 3:4-5)

And the Lord did the same for Isaiah, having an angel take a coal from off the alter touching Isaiah’s lips saying, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” (Isaiah 6:7 NKJV)

We must take our guilt and shame directly to the Lord, who alone as the power to remove it. And this is what the gospel is all about.

The Apostle John said,

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NKJV)

But when we fail to confess, then we’ll suffer much like King David who experienced great physical suffering.

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4 NIV)

After we stand before the Lord confessing our sin, which produced this guilt within us, next we need to follow God’s prescription and receive His forgiveness.

b. Receive God’s Forgiveness

God has made a way for us to be relieved and healed from guilt. And that way is through the forgiveness He provides.

God knows that everyone has done wrong, that everyone has fallen short of His holy and righteous standards. (Romans 3:23)

He also understands the wrong things we do that creates guilt. But God has made a way for us to find forgiveness and hope. It comes through the gift of His Son, Jesus.

Jesus paid our debt so that we can be forgiven and released from the guilt that it causes.

But if we continue to cover our sins through excuses and rationalizations then we’ll never be free from guilt’s prison. What it takes on our part is confession, that is, calling it like it is, calling it the same thing God calls it, and when we do God’s mercy and grace will be ours.

“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13 NIV)

The problem, however, comes when we try to shortcut God’s forgiveness by mistakenly thinking we have to forgive ourselves. Here’s the rub, however, we can’t forgive ourselves. The power to forgive ourselves doesn’t lie within us, further there is no place in God’s word where it states that we can forgive our sins.

Hebrews 9:14 says, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

To be blunt, if we think we can forgive ourselves, what we’re doing is making ourselves into our own gods, because only God has the power to forgive sins.

Trying to forgive ourselves, therefore, only leads to more guilt; rather than relieving us from Guilt.

Guilt can only relieved when we believe and receive God’s forgiveness. If guilt still persists, it’s not because we haven’t forgiven ourselves, it’s because we have failed to truly accept God’s forgiveness.


It’s impossible to entirely eliminate guilt, and when it helps us make good choices, we really wouldn’t want it any other way. Further, learning to evaluate and challenge negative guilt helps free us to live, longer, healthier, happier, and more fulfilling lives.

When guilt comes, therefore, we need to check our relationship with God and see if there is any sin in our lives so that with God’s help we can confess it and eliminate the guilt.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24 NKJV)

Having a relationship with Jesus doesn’t make us perfect because we still sin. However, being a believer frees us from the condemnation of a guilty conscience.

The Bible says,

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1 NKJV)

When we’re faced with feelings of guilt, we need to stand before the Lord and receive His forgiveness, and just as important receive His acceptance knowing that we have now been made righteous through Jesus Christ.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV)

Guilt and shame, along with the condemnation that comes with them, do not have to be the last word in our lives. Instead let’s renew our minds realizing that we have a great and merciful God who’s desire is for us to live in freedom, which includes freedom from guilt and shame.

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